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SYSTEMS ANALYSIS

What early childhood care looks like in countries that actually care about kids

Reuters/Kacper Pempel
The way school should be.
  • Jenny Anderson
By Jenny Anderson

Senior reporter, Editor of How to be Human

Ever since the world discovered that Finnish kids start school at seven, have very little homework, don’t take a lot of high-stakes tests, and yet still perform well on international assessments of reading, math, and science, the country has been a darling of the educational world.

Now the country’s early childhood care system is gaining attention, too.

Kids in Finland can start in early childhood education and care at age one, where they stay until they enter formal schooling at seven. It is not about toddlers sitting in desks and learning phonetics, but exploring the world, making friends, and figuring out how to be part of a community. From the time they enter the system, it is personalized for them: teachers design individualized learning plans with parents, and the toddlers themselves, based on values, likes, and dislikes (Johannes loves painting but hates the texture of paint, or Emilia loves to play with sand and can’t sleep without her blue teddy). Notably, these plans are not focused on developing academic skills or meeting developmental targets.

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